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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

She Said What?

Last night I took the kids to watch Joe play softball. This was the first time we've gone since every time he's played it has been entirely too windy to have the kids out - especially a baby.

I was standing on the side of the bleachers about 5 rows up. There were 5 other adults on the lower seats of the bleachers and a few kids running around.

One of the girls (I'm not good at guessing ages, but I'd say she was maybe between 8-10 yrs old) came up to her mom with a chunk of red clay/dirt. She was breaking it apart and the following is the conversation I heard:

Girl: "Look Mom, for some reason this reminds me of chocolate, like Hershey's or something" (I have no idea how or why breaking the chunk of clay reminded her of chocolate, but that's neither here nor there).

Mom: "Why? Because you're ret*rded?"

Girl: "yeah"

Mom: "ok then."

I don't understand why the mom felt it was necessary to "joke" with her daughter that way; why she even thought it was funny. Why some parents think it is ok to use that word in such a derogatory way - especially saying it to a child who will then learn it is ok to say.

I don't have a problem with the word itself when it is used in the correct medical context - and really, all it means is "to move or proceed slowly, delay."

Unfortunately that word has become a negative connotation for all things considered "bad, ugly, dumb, embarrassing" etc - I know you've heard the common phrases "You're a ret*rd, you're ret*rded, that's so ret*rded" and on and on and on. It's become slang and that slang word is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

It upsets me when I hear it used like that mom did, but what also upsets me is my inability to say anything. Yeah I just stood there and didn't say a word.

Half of me was saying "advocate! educate!" but the other half said this wasn't the time or place. I didn't know any of the people who were there, I was behind them, I don't like confrontation, I didn't want to make everyone else feel uncomfortable by saying anything, so instead I'm the one who is uncomfortable.

I wouldn't know how to say anything in that situation anyway; she wasn't talking to me, I wasn't in their little circle, but I wish I could have said something.

You know the old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?" Not true; words do hurt. If you use that word in slang, and even if you don't mean for it to be hurtful, or malicious, could you please stop and think next time you go to use it that it is offensive to be used that way.

Maybe one of these days I'll learn how to speak louder and speak up. I'm still working on that part of my personality.

There is someone who explains it much better than I ever could. Last year then-high school senior Soeren Palumbo gave a speech at his high school that received a standing ovation. This speech quickly spread through the internet. Even though it's been around for a year, and a lot of you have already seen/read it, I don't think his message ever gets old.

Here are 2 paragraphs from his speech, "So why am I doing this? Why do I risk being misunderstood and resented by this school's student body and staff? Because I know how much you can learn from people, all people, even – no, not even, especially – the mentally handicapped. I know this because every morning I wake up and I come downstairs and I sit across from my sister, quietly eating her cheerio's. And as I sit down she sets her spoon down on the table and she looks at me, her strawberry blonde hair hanging over her freckled face almost completely hides the question mark shaped scar above her ear from her brain surgery two Christmases ago.

By no fault of her own, she will spend her entire life being stared at and judged. Despite the fact that she will never hate, never judge, never make fun of, never hurt, she will never be accepted. That's why I'm doing this. I'm doing this because I don't think you understand how much you hurt others when you hate. And maybe you don't realize that you hate. But that's what is; your pre-emptive dismissal of them, your dehumanization of them, your mockery of them, it's nothing but another form of hate. It's more hateful than racism, more hateful than sexism, more hateful than anything. I'm doing this so that each and every one of you, student or teacher, thinks before the next time you use the word "ret*rd", before the next time you shrug off someone else's use of the word "ret*rd". Think of the people you hurt, both the mentally handicapped and those who love them. If you have to, think of my sister. Think about how she can find more happiness in the blowing of a bubble and watching it float away than most of will in our entire lives. Think about how she will always love everyone unconditionally. Think about how she will never hate. Then think about which one of you is "ret*rded".

To read his whole amazing speech go here, or you can watch it here.

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Christina said...

Michelle I am sending you a big ole cyber hug! There are some situations where I will say stuff and some situations where I will say nothing. I alway feel guilty afterwards too like I was agreeing with what they said. I understand your frustration and I too wish people would stop using this word as slang.

Mom24 said...

What a beautiful post. What an amazing young man, and an amazing speech. It will definitely stay with me for a long, long time.

I wish I had wonderful words of wisdom for you. What a thoughtless and foolish mother. Obviously her daughter did not know any better, but the mom should have. So sad. So, so sad.

Deb said...

Oh sweet, I know exactly where you're coming from. I can't understand people like that. I know how badly their ignorance hurts.

I love that speech.

Sending you a huge cyber hug too.

Tiff said...

The R word is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Around our house its almost worse then saying a 4 letter word. I used that speech back in January to explain to a teenager whom I didnt even really know why I disliked the word so much. He had said "That movie was retarded", and it really just bit my butt. He got angry at first, so I went online to find this speach that I had read before. It explains it soooo much better then I was trying to do. Relating the word "retarded" to racial slur made it so much more real to him. And i'm told he no longer uses the word. Success!! I hope so!


Tricia said...

I cannot believe she said that to her child. Why, oh why, would she want to teach her daughter something so foul??

Karly said...

I totally agree with you. It's hard to know what to say to make others understand. It's one of those "socially acceptable" prejudices. I always tell people that I would feel the same way if they substituted the word "stupid." It's just not nice.

We could all use a little more "nice."

annie said...

I have a big problem with that word. I don't even like it being used to refer to someone mentally challenged or developmentally disabled. It's been changed into such a negative word I really get offended when I hear it.

Debbie said...

I'm sorry for you being in that situation. I forbid it in my classroom, and explain to my students why that's not an okay word to use. Have always done that, actually.
I don't know what I would've said either. Probably nothing because I'm very non-confrontational. I've only informed a RESIDENT once when we were inpatient that that is probably not the best word choice to use. She got it quickly, and I hope she thought before she opened her mouth the next time.

Mom/Mil/GM said...

The ignorance of some people never ceases to amaze me! That woman has no idea what type of example she is setting for her child and she is doing nothing but supporting ignorance and stupidity. I'm sorry you felt to uncomfortable to say anything to her but I totally understand why you kept your silence. As out spoken as I am I'm not sure I would have said anything either. You have to pick battles and this one was not one you could win at that place and time.

Lilith Silvermane said...

Thank you so much for that article and your post! It's something I never thought about,and I agree with you that Advocate! Educate! is a great option. Even if we can't start with the rest of the world, we can start with our own families.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your MIL and all the others that have responded to your post..Do you say "something" or keep "silent"...depends on the situation and where you are at...thru your blog tho, you are reaching others so that vindicates you feeling "quilty" about keeping silent. What a beautiful speech the young man was giving in honor and love of his beautiful sister. Always, Mom/Grandma

Sue said...

Wow - I can not believe that Mom said that to her daughter? What would possess her? It's just so inapropriate for SO many reasons. Don't beat yourself up for not saying anything. I woudln't have either. It's a touch situation to be in especially when your kids are with you - you never know how someone will respond. She's obviously very ignorant.

That is a beautiful speech.

Jen said...

Wow. Tears in my eyes. You inspire me. Words are so harmful. I stress this with Madison constantly. Words can hurt worse than actions...so think before you do.
Hugs to you and your family.

Sarah said...

I'm so sorry you experienced that hurt friend. You have my word that my children will NOT be using that word, even in "joke". That speech was great. Until you've known and loved someone with a mental disability, I'm sure there's just no way to fully understand. You are so blessed, and chosen, to be Kayla's mother and I am honored to know you.
Love, Sarah

Julie said...

I have had to correct my own teenager for that word. I just think people don't think when they use it. I never liked it but am even more aware of it since having Noah. Thank you for the post of that speech. It brought tears to my eyes.

Chris said...

Sending hugs. Know just how you feel. For once, I am at a loss of words. Just sad that the world isn't a nicer place for those who deserve compassion the most.

Julia said...

Beautifully written! I totally agree. I've even had to correct adult friends before, I just say, "We don't use that word" but I so don't know if I could have spoken up at a softball game...I just don't know. But on the bright side? You DID advocate and educate. You wrote about it :) And I had never heard that speech. So, thank you!

Sgt and Mrs Hub said...

How sad for that little girl. A mother is suppose to encourage, affirm. That just broke my heart.

It bugs me when people throw around terms and words without thinking. Such ignorance!


Much More Than A Mom said...

I teach my students, and will teach my children, that re*ard and offshoots are swear words because of the feeling that they can give people. If we create wrinkles in anyone's heart instead of smiles, we don't use those words. It could be any word, but it generally works. I, for one, HATE that word. As a young teen I used it in slang and regret every time it left my lips. I sincerely hope nobody other than my friends who were just as stupid as I was heard me.

Well said, Michelle!

I have no idea how to interrupt ignorant people I don't know either. I'd have no problem if I'd had a few drinks, but I've been either pregnant or nursing for 3 years and I've lost my touch!

Julie said...

Your post came at just the right time. My oldest son has been using this word a lot lately. Of course, my husband and I have explained to him why this is inappropriate and why he shouldn't say this. But I still catch him saying it. A few days ago I heard my 3-year old little girl say it. Obviously she had heard it from her oldest brother.
Well, I decided to "crack down" on the use of bad words around here- stupid, retarded, sucks- the words my kids have picked up since going to school last year. I am going to copy and print out your post and read it to my kids, if you don't mind. I want them to realize how hurtful it can be to use the word retarded in a derogatory way.

Thanks, again, for this post.

Omaha Mama said...

That word is a biggie for me. I do not accept it. That being said, I wouldn't have been able to say anything to that mom either. The only thing I may have done would've been throwing a look her way, which would accomplish nothing.

Something to remember is to teach your little Kayla about hate. And acceptance. Something I see often is that parents of kids with differences fight so hard for their kid to be with typically developing children that the children themselves can become prejudice of people with differences and unable to spend time with others with disabilities. I have kids in my classroom calling each other ret@rds and they all have cognitive disabilities! Sigh.

This post is beautiful, but having the courage to write it, you are spreading the knowledge. Good for you!

Every minute counts.... said...

i have been in that same situation too many times to count and it doesn't hurt any less the more times you hear it. I too don't like comfrontation and tend to not say anything...but if they could only read my mind!!! I am sure I would say much of what is said in that speech!


amy said...

THat comment was soo not funny. That makes me mad just to read that.

What a great post

~Melissa~ said...

Wow - I can't believe that the mother said that to her daughter. You wrote yet another beautiful post Michelle.

Annie said...

dude - that sucks i'm sorry!

Tara said...

Michelle, I get so aggravated when people use this word as slang. It does hurt and I never step up and say anything to them. Like you, I'm the one sitting there uncomfortable. Thank you for sharing that part of his speech. It always gives me goosebumps.

the three amigos said...

I am sorry some people are so clueless. I apologize for her. What a waste of air. (hug)

Dana a/k/a Sunshine said...

That comment was sooo inappropriate and so unnecessary. I don't understand that at all. I know you feel bad about not saying something, but in that situation, I'm not sure you should have. Don't beat yourself up over it. I wish I were more vocal in situations like that. I'm trying to work on it.
Thanks also for sharing that article. That was powerful and very thought provoking. I think sometimes, no, many times, we don't think about how our careless words can really hurt someone. I am going to share this with my 13-year old son. Thank you so much and have a beautiful day Michelle.

www.prayingforparker.com said...

Amazing post.

Reed runs into this same situation at his school all the time...from kids, parents and even teachers. Can you believe that? Teachers.

It never fails to totally and utterly stun me.

Killlashandra said...

I never know why people feel the need to make comments like that. I've even caught my husband at it and I'll tell ya what he does not get away with it. Sometimes I think it's just how they were brought up, it was ok then to make those jokes why not now? I don't even like it when the kids get on the you're stupid kick and nip that one in the bud too. Why do people feel the need to degrade each other? There's a rhetorical question.

Totally off the subject, W.W. and I plan to see the butterflies on Saturday! I'll think of you and hopefully get some good pictures. :)

chelle said...

My Dad has a trash mouth. Full on blue collar, curses like a sailor. SO I really have to watch what I say. I never ever think of people when I speak, it is merely expressions. The "r" word is totally taboo though, working with people that have disabilities and seeing what they can contribute to the world changed my views on life a lot.

Mary said...

I understand how you feel. This past weekend, a family member used the "r" word repeatedly. My mind went blank. I knew what I wanted to say but it wouldn't come out. So I said nothing. I've had talks with family members before but I don't know what was different this time around. I returned home upset with myself more than anything else.

Shannon @ Gabi's World said...


I honestly hear it so much that I feel like I would need 2 or 3 of me to advocate it everytime I heard it. Sometimes you do have to choose your battles. I have had times where when I do say something people think I am looking for them to feel sorry for me, but that wasn't the point.

I haven't found my best way to deal with it yet. Hugs. I know it's tough and I know exactly what you were feeling because I feel it too.

AZ Chapman said...

I stood up to my uncle M and showed him the speech It is amazing how a friendship with L My friend with DS can inspire me to stand up to m y uncle before L I would have let is slide.

Corey~living and loving said...

YOu know....this is a word I learned as a kid...and use to say it a lot. I never really thought about it being hurtful. Since most people no longer use it to describe a medical condition anymore, I think it has become ever more popular to use as a term that just means "slow" or "stupid". Not nice at all, but I do think it has losts it's true meaning, and most people don't even think twice about using it.

I like your post though. I am not a fan of the word "stupid" either, so it won't be a term we use in our household either.

Debbie said...

So I was reading a blog tonight and someone was writing how they got a Genuis thingie on something that checks their blog. How special. (Mine's only rated HS)
Then she wrote that she thinks it meant to say RETARDED.
I blinked. I could not believe I had just read that. I thought about navigating away, but I knew if I didn't post a comment that it'd eat at me the rest of the night. So I commented that that was offensive, but my daughter is actually labeled retarded, so what did I know. That's the best I could come up with. And it's still eating at me.
But you inspired me to say something. Just wanted you to know.

Karen said...

I know exactly what you mean - it's so hard to know what to say/when to say it. And I hate offending people.

But it needs said. I teach my children and the kids I teach at church that it's wrong to say that to each other in a derrogatory way.

Anonymous said...

Shocking. For a Mum to say that to her own child is just unbelievable.

amy flege said...

some people just dont get it, do they??

Tammy said...

Michelle, I don't like confrontations most of the time, either...and sometimes it's so hard to know exactly what to say to a stranger like that.

Not only did that mom use that word in a derogatory way, demeaning all of those who are challenged...but it also seemed like a crude way to interact with her own child, too.
To jokingly put down your child seems so strange to me...

That speech that the young man gave is so beautiful.
See...you are enlightening those around you just through this very blog, dear Michelle!

Beck said...

I wouldn't know what to do there, either, but I'm hurting for you that you have to deal with such constant unthinking insensitivity.

Renee' said...

What an amazing and beautiful post! Thank you!

McKenna said...

I usually don't say anything. I have a couple times and wish I could speak up more times. One time a friend posted a comment about the short bus and she really was just not thinking. I posted "Hey everyone, what's wrong with the short bus? ~Darah" and got my point across without being a witch. I also have said "I know you don't intend to offend anyone, but you see, my daughter has Down syndrome and is not able to speak up for herself, so I feel like it's my job as her mother and protector to let people know that when you misuse that word, it hurts." Saying things lovingly makes people think more about what they say than saying it aggressively.

Jeannie said...

What a fantastic speech! Thanks so much for sharing it.

Jen said...

Stumbled upon your blog through Olive Leaf. When people use that word in a derogatory manner, it makes me cringe. I don't think I could have said something in a situation similar to the one you were in either, but I have spoken up to educate in other circumstances. I'm guessing that people that need to use the word like that have fairly empty lives. How sad.

Heather said...

I recently had a good friend tell me that she overheard at a Halloween party that a child called her son retarded because he has a speech delay. Kids can be cruel and they learn it from their parents. I too struggle with whether I should say something in situations like that. We can't always change other people...but we can educate our own children and help them to grow up with compassion. Love ya girl!

Jeanette said...

I have not experienced this yet, but know that someday it is coming. The speech that you sent was amazing. I have not seen it before. Thank you for sharing! I will pay it forward on our blog. Blessings to you and your family.

LauraJ said...

You both are doing a wonderful job! You should have seen me when A went to kindergarten. Ohhh my goodness I didn't have much restraint with my tongue. Now though this is his 4rth year in school everything is going according to "His" plan for A's education. Remember someone upstairs is looking out for Kayla too. Your last sentence is what I strive for every year. A is happy and everyone in the school likes him, that's what's most important about the whole school experience. Besides learning of course.